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'It took them 10 minutes to destroy what I built in a lifetime'

Ever since the Rajbi family home was demolished by Israeli authorities two weeks ago, the children have been staying with relatives, while the father sleeps in a tin hut next to the rubble. This is what it looks like when Israel turns its Palestinians into criminals against their own will.

The path to the Rajbi family home in East Jerusalem’s Beit Hanina neighborhood, or what was their home until two weeks ago, is difficult to find, even with the help of navigation apps such as Waze. After driving off the main road, the half-paved alleyways blend into one another in a maze of dirt tracks. Three of them bear the exact same name. After a few attempts to find the house, Samir, brother of Issam Rajbi whose former home we are looking for, comes to our rescue. In East Jerusalem, this is not an especially effective milestone; the dirt mounds and remains of demolished homes are pile up on the way, every few hundred meters.

According to the Israeli organization Ir Amim, which tracks the goings on in East Jerusalem, there has been an increase in home demolitions in East Jerusalem since mid-2015. 2016 saw a record high of 123 housing units demolished. Since the beginning of 2017, 96 residential units and 59 other structures have been destroyed. For the sake of comparison, the yearly average preceding 2016 hovered at around 50 per year.

Around two weeks ago, on November 22, it was the Rajbi family’s turn. The family is comprised of a mother, a father, and eight children between the ages of 6 and 21. Like many of East Jerusalem’s Palestinians, the Rajbis are trapped by a lack of planning, preventing them any opportunity to legally build their home on their own land. This turns them into criminals against their own will.

“I have been submitting requests to delay the demolition since 2010,” says Issam. “The demolition order applied to the 30 meters around the house. I told them several times that I would demolish those 30 meters by myself. They told me ‘don’t do anything.’ Last Wednesday they came unannounced and began demolishing. I told their work manager that the order only applied to the 30 meters. He responded, ‘don’t even talk to me, I know what to do,’ and destroyed the entire house.”

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Fifty faces of occupation

A new exhibit by B’Tselem marks 50 years of occupation with portraits of 50 Palestinians born in the occupied territories, who have never known a day of freedom in their lives.

There is a checkpoint next to my house. It determines my life’s routine. It is a source of constant worry: whenever my children are on their way home from school or to another place, I’m worried. I want to travel, to sit on the beach, to visit Al Aqsa and my family in Jerusalem. But because of the checkpoints, I can’t. Sometimes it takes hours to cross the checkpoint. I just sit and lean against the grates. — Kharbiyeh Marwani, Hebron.

Last Friday, B’Tselem opened a photo exhibit at the Jaffa Art Salon to mark the 50th year of the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. More than 40 photographers, men and women, took portraits of 50 Palestinians, residents of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip.

The subjects of the portraits come from different backgrounds and walks of life: from cities and villages, from refugee camps and communities under threat of expulsion, affluent and poor. But they all have one thing in common: they have never known a day of freedom in their lives.

Since its establishment 28 years ago, B’Tselem has documented human rights abuses in the occupied territories and attempted to raise the Israeli public’s awareness of these abuses. Contrary to the claims that the Right likes to make against human rights organizations, B’Tselem’s target audience is, and always has been, the Israeli public — which has not only a right but an obligation to know what happens in its name. At a time when Israelis are increasingly indifferent to anything having to do with the occupation, this exhibit attempts to bring the faces of Palestinians living under military rule to the Israeli street.

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I was thrown in jail when I was 23. I was released 22 years later, when I was 45. While I was imprisoned, my children grew up and got married. When I think about freedom, I think about the time I spent behind bars. — Zuheir A-Shashineh, Al Burg refugee camp, Gaza.

It is...

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How Arabic became a threat to 'social cohesion' in Israel

The absurd arrest of a Palestinian worker who was mistranslated by the police is a reminder that Arabic has been turned into a tool to oppress the native population in this country.

Israelis read Sunday morning that Israeli police had mistakenly arrested a Palestinian worker after relying on a Facebook translation of a post he had written a week earlier. The worker had uploaded a photo of himself standing next to a bulldozer with the caption, “good morning,” which the police then misinterpreted to say, “attack them,” leading to his arrest for incitement to violence.

The incident exemplifies something about the Israeli complex vis-a-vis the Arabic language. One may wonder how the hell it is possible that a language used by nearly half the people living in this land, which is spoken by millions across the region, has become so esoteric and exotic to us to the point that we must resort to Facebook’s poor translation software in order to understand it. Beyond that, one can see how the incident is the result of the state’s attempt to empty Arabic of its power to connect people — as a language that contains its own history, culture, and memory — and turn it into something entirely different.

In order to understand this process, we only need to remember a law that was recently proposed by members of the Israeli government to annul the status of Arabic as an official language in Israel. The law, it was said, would “promote social cohesion in the State of Israel and build a collective identity needed for building mutual trust and maintaining the principles of democracy.”

The “social cohesion” mentioned by the MKs who wrote the law begins with stripping away the language from 20 percent of Israel’s population (and millions more living under its direct and indirect rule), and turning it into an obstacle of sorts. Arabic, it turns out, is standing in the way of our social cohesion.

But the truly interesting thing is that those who proposed the law are not trying to make Arabic disappear: they just want to strip it of its essence and turn it into something else. When Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman takes pride in being the only one who “really understands Arabic,” he treats the language as a simple matter of power and control. Arabic becomes a fist or a whip. When Culture Minister Miri Regev attacks MK Haneen Zoabi on the Knesset...

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Settler violence on the rise as olive harvest begins in West Bank

Since the beginning of the olive harvest two weeks ago, Israeli human rights organizations have documented 10 cases of settler violence and theft against Palestinians and their property. For now, it seems like the police are doing their job.

The olive harvest season, which began two weeks ago across Israel-Palestine, is one of the most heated seasons in the year for Palestinians in the occupied territories, especially for those living in Area C, under complete Israeli military control.

Nearly every plot of Palestinian land designated for farming in the West Bank is located in this area, yet 60 percent of that very land now belongs to settlement local and regional councils. Israel’s multifarious practices of dispossession, from land expropriations to declaring whole swaths of private property closed military zones, have restricted Palestinian access to their agricultural land. In many places, they are allowed access only during seasons when they plow the land, or during the olive harvest. The success of the harvest has a direct effect on their livelihood. Often times, land that has been abandoned by Palestinians due to settler violence is later taken over by those very same settlers.

Every year at this time, like clockwork, Israeli settlers head out to Palestinian olive groves to sow destruction and violence. Since 2005, Israeli anti-occupation NGO Yesh Din has documented around 280 police cases relating to attacks on olive trees. According to the organization, only six of those cases ended in indictments. Over 93 percent of them were closed due to police failure to find the criminals or to gather the proper evidence to put the suspects on trial. Often times, the army simply “takes care” of conflagrations between settlers and Palestinians by preventing the Palestinians from accessing their agricultural land, a practice that has been roundly criticized by Israel’s High Court of Justice.

Thus, reports over the past few weeks of cases in which Israeli security forces actually caught settlers as they were harassing Palestinian farmers are surprising in just how out of the ordinary they are. Under normal circumstances, a news report on police catching criminals in the act as they attack innocent people would be a case of dog bites man. In the reality of occupation, this is clearly a case of man bites dog.

Last Sunday, for instance, settlers were caught stealing olives from a Palestinian grove adjacent the village of Al-Jinya, not far from the settlement outpost of Zait Ra’anan....

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How can women 'wage peace' without talking about occupation?

A recent rally organized by ‘Women Wage Peace’ may have looked momentous, yet it ignored 50 years of military occupation, all while recycling the same old tropes about the role of women in violent conflicts.

I arrived early and with many reservations to the rally organized by “Women Wage Peace” in Jerusalem’s Independence Park this past week. It was the culmination of a two-week “Journey to Peace,” in which thousands of Israeli and Palestinian women marched through Israel and the West Bank to demand a peaceful resolution to the conflict. I had been following the group since it was formed after the 2014 Gaza war. On the one hand, a mass movement of women in support of peace is a welcome change. On the other hand, what are they actually saying? And even more importantly: what are they not saying? How can it be that the word occupation is entirely absent from a group that aims to end the conflict?

I came early, deciding to sit in a cafe along the route of the march. After a few minutes, two women dressed in white and speaking in Arabic sat next to me. I asked if they were part of the march; they said yes. After a brief conversation, I asked one of the women, a Palestinian-Israeli from Jaffa, if she isn’t bothered that Women Wage Peace never even hints at the word “occupation.”

“This was the decision that was made,” she responded evasively. When I asked once more whether or not it bothers her, she said, “of course it bothers me. It bothers me as a woman, as a Palestinian, as an Israeli, but this is what they decided. That we must speak about the future, we’ve already spoken plenty about the past.” But the occupation is not the past, I insisted. It is very much the present. “You’re right, but what can we do? Keep sitting at home? We need to do something to change reality.”

Our conversation was cut off by the march, which suddenly grew close. We paid and hurried outside. The sight was enthralling: thousands of women — and men — dressed in all white, marching and singing songs of peace in central Jerusalem. This is, of course, not a common sight. There were so many people that passersby just gaped; the usual right-wing chants well known from other protests — generally far smaller, especially in Jerusalem – were hardly heard....

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The Bedouin village where compassion ends

The Palestinian residents of Khan al-Ahmar are facing the threat of expulsion from their homes in the West Bank. No matter how hard they tried to ingratiate themselves with their settler neighbors, nothing seemed to help. 

Sukkot is a lovely holiday. For seven days we play pretend: building ornate sukkot tabernacles in the safety of our yards or on our balconies, and imagine transience. While we say blessings, the residents of the Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar will be biding their time.

Is there another way to awaken the Jewish-Israeli conscience, which instructs us to remember that the sukka was an integral part of our forefathers’ journey from slavery to freedom? That this is not so different from the dilapidated shacks that house the residents of Khan al-Ahmar, from which the state is trying to expel them? Will the fate of hundreds of people, children and elderly who live in deep poverty just a short drive away from the settlement of Kfar Adumim, be of any interest to us a moment before we go back to our daily routine after the holiday comes to an end?

The story of Khan al-Ahmar is depressing in its banality. The Jahalin Bedouin community who were forced to leave their land in the Negev Desert following the 1948 war and wandered to the Mishor Adumim area of the West Bank. Decades later, that area was designated “Area C,” under full Israeli military control; the Jahalin, then, turned into an obstacle to settlement expansion. As long as Bedouin communities in the area have been under Israel’s control, the state has refrained from providing them with minimal living conditions, including connecting them to water and electricity. In fact, Israel has done everything in its power to prevent the residents from taking their fate into their own hands.

The state does not seem to be satisfied with home demolitions, fines, and confiscating equipment — now it wants to evict the entire village. To where? To an area bordering on a giant landfill near Abu Dis, an area that the state itself has called a “ticking time bomb” due to the large methane deposits that have accumulated over the years. The master plan proposed by the residents of Khan al-Ahmar, along with Israeli planning rights NGO Bimkom, was rejected by the Civil Administration.

A symbolic struggle

One must see Khan al-Ahmar in order to understand the dire poverty in...

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The Israeli army is now justifying expulsion with feminism

Netanyahu vowed this week that Israel would not uproot any more Arab communities. He seemed to forget two Palestinian villages fighting for their existence at this very moment.

On the way back from Susya, a small Palestinian hamlet in the south Hebron Hills, we pass by a major traffic jam caused by the 50th anniversary celebration of the occupation. It was at those festivities that Prime Minister Netanyahu vowed that he would not uproot any more communities — neither Jewish or Arab. Tell that to the residents of Susya, Mr. Prime Minister.

Susya is one of two Palestinian communities in Area C of the West Bank (under full Israeli military control) that are struggling against expulsion. The other village is Khan al-Ahmar, a Bedouin community near the settlement of Ma’ale Adumim. The state wants to expel the villagers to a waste site in Abu Dis, located in Area B (where the Palestinian Authority handles administrative matters, and where Israel controls security).

After the state told Israel’s High Court of Justice earlier this week that it intends to evacuate Khan al-Ahmar in the coming months, Israeli human rights NGO B’Tselem warned that forcibly removing an indigenous community in occupied territory constitutes a war crime. I doubt whether such a declaration bothers anyone in the government, since war crimes have long ceased to be an issue for those running the country. The state says both Susya and Khan al-Ahmar were built illegally and without permits or a plan. And in both cases, it is the state itself that prevents the proper planning of both communities — in order to set the stage for massive, strategic expulsions in order to expand the surrounding settlements.

Susya was established in the south Hebron Hills since the 1830s. Until 1986, the village was a few hundred meters from its current location. It was then, however, that archeologists began digging in the area, discovering the remains of an ancient Jewish community. The Civil Administration, a branch of the Israeli army that manages the day-to-day of Palestinians under military occupation, declared the village an archeological site, the area was expropriated for “the needs of the public,” and the IDF expelled the Palestinians of Susya from their homes. The villagers then moved to their privately-owned agricultural land, approximately 300 meters southeast of the original village.

Expulsion in the name of feminism

In its current location,...

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Why is the Israeli Right so terrified of cultural expression?

The Right holds near total power in Israel, so why is it so afraid of poetry and theater productions?

Should a stranger come upon the public discussions happening in Israel over the past few years, he or she would be under the impression that the country is a global cultural powerhouse. From Al-Midan Theater, Jaffa’s Arab Hebrew Theater, the Ophir Prize — Israel’s version of the Oscars — to Palestinian poets Dareen Tatour and Mahmoud Darwish, the media and the public are in a frenzy over the face of Israeli culture.

In light of these discussions, one gets the impression that culture plays such a central role in Israeli society (statistics show that Israeli students receive the lowest grades in the literature and writing sections of their matriculation exams). Our society, however, still places a far greater emphasis on hard sciences rather humanities, and the cultural budget Israelis fight endlessly over constitutes a tiny percentage of the total state budget — far lower than that of other countries.

The story we tell ourselves

So how do we explain the Israeli obsession with culture? Yes, the cultural sphere is currently overseen by Miri Regev, a racist and violent woman who violently does her best to stay in the headlines. But this government excels in producing racist provocateurs, many of which are far more dangerous than Miri Regev in terms of the power they hold. The same goes for the current Knesset, the most extreme Israel has known to date, which proposes racist laws with far-reaching consequences on a regular basis.

Moreover, we are in an era in which the Right is enjoying an unprecedented amount of power. Its rule is absolute, the opposition is weak and paralyzed, and there is no real force that challenges it from the left. Why, then, did a small theater such as Al-Midan — which raised the culture minister’s ire when it ran a play written by a Palestinian citizen of Israel who was imprisoned for his role in the murder of an Israeli soldier — become a topic of national interest that leads Regev to total war?

There is a double answer to this question, which is tied to the very essence of culture itself. When culture is at its best, it does two opposite things: it challenges the collective narrative while also articulating it. The character of a society is formed not only by what it does, but also by...

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Palestinians and Israelis mark interfaith new year in East Jerusalem

Over 150 people hold a joint feast in honor of the Muslim and Jewish new years in the neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, where Israel is working tirelessly to replace Palestinians with settlers.

This year, the Jewish New Year lined up with the Muslim New Year, an event that takes place once every 33 years. In honor of the double-holiday, the residents of the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah decided to hold a joint new year’s feast for Jews and Muslims outside the Shamanseh family home, from which they were evicted by settlers two weeks ago.

The struggle over the fate of the home may have come to an end for now, but the struggle against Israel’s policies of dispossession in the neighborhood, which have reared their head after a respite and now threaten dozens of families in Sheikh Jarrah, continues unabated. Palestinian activists and residents continue to arrive at the Shamanseh home every evening, making clear they are not going anywhere. [Read more on the evictions in Sheikh Jarrah here].

When we reached the home, the first thing we heard was the Muslim call to prayer and an Israeli flag that had been hung on the roof. The flag felt so foreign that for a moment it seemed its presence served to remind the settlers that they were there due to the good graces of the Israeli government. With the muezzin blaring in the background and the Arabic in the street, it was easy to forget that.

‘We will cry together and protect one another’

As prayers came to an end, the preparations outside the Shamanseh home were at their peak: dozens of people setting up tables, spreading tablecloths, organizing chairs, while greeting each other with hugs, kisses, and the traditional new years greeting in Hebrew and Arabic. I quickly realized that the vegan dish we brought was unnecessary; the hosts from the neighborhood made sure to include plenty of vegan options.

People continued to stream in, both Jews and Palestinians. Finally we sat around the table, 150 of us, in one of the most memorable events of the last few years. I spoke to a man, who according to his appearance was a devout Muslim, who told me he came from Shuafat refugee camp to take part in the event. “Although we have our own problems there,” he told me, “but when Jews and Arabs do something so nice together,...

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Is Israel turning its Bedouin citizens into a stateless people?

Israel has been systematically revoking citizenship from its Bedouin citizens without as much as telling them. Is this a harbinger of things to come?

In Israel’s relentless war against its Arab citizens, there are few things that one can still reasonably claim to be surprised by. Jack Khoury’s article in Haaretz a few weeks ago, however, did just that. Khoury revealed how the Israeli Interior Ministry has been revoking citizenship from hundreds of Bedouin in the Negev. Bedouin citizens would arrive at the Ministry to handle some bureaucratic procedure — such as applying for a new passport — and would leave with a new status: non-citizen resident whose presence in the country is now dependent on the good will of the regime.

It turns out this has been happening for years.

“I have been working on this for nearly two years,” says MK Aida Touma-Sliman of the Joint List. “I have submitted many parliamentary questions and have had correspondences with the Interior Ministry. They claim that this policy was applied to 2,600 people — I think it’s a far greater number. I believe that this is going to be one of the central struggles of the Arab public in the coming years.”

In a hearing held by the Knesset’s Internal Affairs and Environment Committee at the request of Touma-Sliman, representatives of the Interior Ministry confirmed the existence of the following policy: when Bedouin citizens come to the ministry’s offices, clerks check the population registry for records of their parents and grandparents between 1948 and 1952. Khoury explains the significance of these years:

Bargaining chips in the hands of the state

Joint List MK Juma’a Azbarga, a Bedouin from the village of Lakiya in the Negev, has trouble understanding the “mistake”: “A clerk at the Interior Ministry should not have the authority to revoke someone’s citizenship. A mistake affecting 2,600 people? This is a well-planned mistake. This is policy.”

“I believe this is part of a process happening beneath the surface,” Azbarga continue. “They want to slowly reach a critical mass of citizenship-less people in order to make it easier when they come to transfer us. The name of the game is demography; the Bedouin make up 34 percent of the population in the Negev. In the eyes of the state, that’s a threat.”

“The state established a network for Bedouin settlement. We are not settlers — we are the natives here. So...

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Goodbye to the Jewish-Arab school that taught me the meaning of hope

For years, Jerusalem’s bilingual school gave an entire community reason to believe in hope and partnership. In Israel of today, it is nothing short of a miracle.

Today is the first day of September, the first day of school in Israel. Putting aside the years we lived abroad, this is the first time in 13 years that we are not sending our daughters to the Max Rayne “Hand in Hand” bilingual school in Jerusalem.

The process of deciding which school to send one’s child begins at a very early age. As young parents, it was clear to us that we didn’t want anything “special,” and that it would be best to send our girl to the neighborhood preschool, since this was her natural environment and it was important for her to learn about it. At the end of the year, after fundamental disagreements over the need for four year olds to prepare packages for Israeli soldiers and questions on who is authorized to teach them about Jewish holidays, we began looking elsewhere.

There are some schools of thought that argue that schooling and education are far less critical than what we tend to think. Perhaps this is true. Our entire family — not just our daughters — would not be who we are today without the bilingual school.

It is difficult for me to speak nostalgically, since not long has passed since we parted, and because we will remain part of the school’s community. And yet, as I write these words memories come flooding back — moments of overcoming and laughter, as well as pain and frustration. The singing in Hebrew and Arabic — full of hope and light — at the beginning of every school year, the first words they learned to write in both languages, the infamous arson, the hateful graffiti repeatedly spray-painted on the walls, the joint Iftar meal, the tours to destroyed Palestinian villages.

There were also, of course, the astonished/worried/angry responses we received when we signed up our older daughter, including the question that seemed to repeat itself over and over: “What will happen if she marries an Arab when she grows up?” to which I would always answer: “I’ll learn how to make maqluba for Friday night dinners,” and so I did. Others wanted to know whether she and her sister would grow confused over their Jewish identity.

That question seems so baseless now. In their years at the school, my...

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WATCH: Settlers sexually harass Palestinian woman, soldiers stand by

Settlers in Hebron use loudspeaker to disparage Islam and sexually harass a Palestinian woman in the middle of the night.

The settlers of Hebron have never been known for their manners. This time, however, it seems that they have sunk to a new low — even by their standards.

Last Thursday night, settlers from the nearby settlement of Kiryat Arba approached the neighborhood of al-Hariqah and used a PA system to curse Islam as well as the local Palestinian population, in both Arabic and Hebrew.

A Palestinian volunteer for Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem documented parts of the incident from the window of her home (full disclosure: I am a member of B’Tselem’s board). When the settlers realized she was filming, they began cursing and sexually harassing her using racist and misogynistic language. According to the volunteer, soldiers who were present at the scene did nothing to stop the settlers.

This video should come with a trigger warning, since the language used in it is too despicable to quote:

A B’Tselem volunteer who filmed the incident from her window said the following the incident in a testimony she provided to B’Tselem field researcher Manal al-Ja’bri:

At 6 p.m. I went up to my apartment, which looks out over al-Hariqah neighborhood and the settlement of Kiryat Arba. At first I ignored the settlers’ party, but they turned the music up just when the muezzin called out for evening prayers from the mosque. They started mocking the prayer and insulting the Prophet Muhammad.

I saw a military jeep on the hilltop where the settlers were gathered. There were several other soldiers on the road below, which looks out over al-Hariqah Street that runs by the settlement. I began filming. The settlers began to use foul language and call out obscenities concerning me, Islam, and especially the Prophet Muhammad. The Israeli soldiers and police did nothing to stop them. This was not the first time: about a year ago, I documented settlers swearing, using foul language and calling out obscenities against the Prophet Muhammad while soldiers and police allowed them to continue.”

According to the IDF Spokesperson Unit, the soldiers present “asked the settlers to stop and even called the police. The police arrived at the scene and confiscated the PA system.” The video, however, does not include any intervention on the part of the soldiers.

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Meet the Palestinian Israel put on trial for her poetry

Dareen Tatour has spent over a year and a half under house arrest for publishing a poem on her Facebook page. Since then, she has lost the ability to support herself, and cannot leave the house without a ‘chaperone.’ Orly Noy spoke to Tatour about the difficulty of living under constant surveillance, her love for Hebrew and Arabic poetry, and the need for Jews and Arabs to learn each other’s language. 

One day in the future, when they write the book on the belligerence and aggression of the State of Israel toward its Arab citizens, the story of Dareen Tatour — who has been under house arrest for nearly two years, including three months of jail time — will have its own special chapter dedicated to it.

Tatour was arrested in October 2015 for both a poem and Facebook post she published. Since then, the state has been waging a legal battle, which has included bringing in a series of experts on both Arabic and Arabic poetry, in order to dissect the words of a young poet who was nearly anonymous until her arrest. Her trial, and the state’s attempts to turn a poem into an existential threat, has been nothing short of Kafkaesque.

I spoke to Tatour by telephone, from her home in the village of Reineh, near Nazareth. As part of the conditions of her house arrest, Tatour is not allowed to use the Internet or smart phones. “So I started using dumb phones,” she laughs. Soft spoken, Tatour maintains a reserved matter-of-factness even as she recalls those first knocks on her door and the moment everything changed.

“It was on October 11, 2015. It was 3:30 a.m. when they suddenly they knocked on the door. I was sleeping, and I heard my mother and father coming to wake me up. There were many police officers, more than 10. They said nothing except that I had to come with them. My mother and father tried to ask what happened, what I did, but the officers only responded with ‘she knows.’ I know I did nothing wrong, so I didn’t understand what was happening. It was very frightening, I thought maybe it was a case of mistaken identity.”

“They took me to the police station in Nazareth, where I waited in the yard until 6 a.m. As I waited, every officer who passed by said something hurtful. ‘You look like a terrorist,’ I got a lot...

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